Government proposal on Digital Age of Consent at 13 now redundant

Seán Sherlock TD
25 April 2018

Labour spokesperson on Children and Youth Affairs, Sean Sherlock TD has said that the announcement by Whatsapp that it would raise the minimum age from 13 to 16 shows that the Government’s proposal is now redundant, and welcomed the confirmation today that Fianna Fáil and Sinn Féin would now support the Labour position of 16. He also stressed that changing the age won’t stop anyone using Facebook.

Deputy Sherlock said:

“The confirmation in today’s Daily Mail from the Justice spokesmen of Fianna Fáil and Sinn Féin that they will now support the Labour Party position to adopt 16 as the digital age of consent is welcome and overdue.

“I have tabled an amendment for Committee Stage of the Data Protection Bill to change the age from 13 to 16, and I look forward to their support next week.

“The announcement by WhatsApp and Facebook on their intention to adopt a uniform approach to European data markets also shows that the Government’s proposals for a Digital Age of Consent at 13 is redundant.

“With Facebook and WhatsApp adopting EU wide privacy policies, rather than digging down into national laws in each member state, Fine Gael should now reconsider it’s approach.

“Whatsapp will ask EU users to confirm they are 16, while Facebook will ask children between 13 and 15 to nominate a parent or guardian to grant permission. Children that don’t have parental permission for Facebook will see a generic version of Facebook that is not customised based on their personal data. This shows that children will continue to have access to the internet but won’t have their data exploited.

“So contrary to ill informed claims, setting the digital age at 16 will not mean that a 13 year old cannot use Facebook. Rather, it will mean that Facebook cannot use the 13 year old. The child will be protected from targeted advertising derived from personal data. This is not so different from the rules in place banning ads targeted at children in the offline world, including broadcasting.

“The question we must ask is does a child at age 13 have capacity to contract? We have and will continue take expert advice on this and will submit amendments at Committee stage that I hope other parties will now support.

“If we were to set the digital age of consent for Ireland at 16 it would be in line with Germany, the Netherlands, France, and others, who have best-in-class approaches to protecting children online.

“This is not about when children can go online or use devices, rather, it only relates to situations where the processing of the personal data of a child is performed. The Bill at present sets the Irish digital age of consent at the lowest possible age – 13 years and it is my belief that it should be set at 16.”

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